At home, I found myself a quarter of the way through a bottle of cheap fruity wine that I adamantly told myself was a project and not a crutch. Dave didn't call and I didn't download Skype. Because Dave was on a plane and literally had no way of contacting me without absolutely stellar cellular service and potentially interfering with some very delicate airplane equipment. It was hard to lie there on my couch and do nothing, knowing that I had to wait thirteen hours before we could finish the conversation I'd stupidly begun.
When a knock came a little past six, I was actually foolish enough to hope it was him. That he'd seen the unsaid message in my eyes and come back. I slammed the bottle on the table, finger-combed my bangs and pinched my cheeks, and leapt for the door. Stupidly, I didn't even check the peephole before I opened it.
It was Everly. With flowers. Standing with his hair pulled back into a ponytail, looking bright yet apologetic. When he saw me, he stuck his foot in the door and held out the bouquet.
"I heard your friend left town."
I only took the flowers so they wouldn't hit me in the face. They were pink and white, elegant and trumpet-shaped, and I thought they were lilies of some type. My first instinct was to throw them down as some sort of dramatic rejection, but it wasn't the flowers' fault, so I glared at Everly and went to put them in water.
I should have called the authorities. Everly took it upon himself to drape himself across my couch and pick up my blackberry merlot. One eyebrow arched, he sniffed it and gave me a disapproving glance. "You know, I was hoping this was just sparkling grape juice, but now I see how serious the situation is."
Since I didn't have a vase, I put the flowers in a pitcher of water, which had the same effect as putting a Michelangelo fresco in a five-dollar Walmart frame. I turned back to him, too numb to muster the appropriate fear or outrage, but I knew I had to say something.
"This isn't something you can belittle and then expect to get away with," I said, walking back to the living room to snatch up the wine and clutch it to my chest.
He smirked. "What, Arbor Mist? That's a little unrealistic."
I almost dumped it on his head, but I refrained.
"Don't be an asshole," I said. With exaggerated care, I put the bottle down on the coffee table, out of his reach, and then swept my hair behind my ears. If I composed myself, I was sure I could handle this. Numbness went a long way toward looking poised. I smoothed down my shirt and continued, "You know I'm upset because Dave is gone, and you're only here to try to take advantage of me while I'm vulnerable."
Unexpectedly, Everly had the audacity to look offended. He rose to his feet and took a step toward me, but I took two steps back, and he stood there with his arms helplessly outstretched. His face actually looked pained.
"I came here because I care about you and I know you're hurting," he said.
I was not going to fall for this, I was not going to fall for this, I was not going to fall for this. I told myself to kick him out, throw away the flowers, and get rip-roaring drunk as soon as possible, no matter what polite societal standards said. Now that I was an adult, I didn't need to buy into his stupid games anymore.
But unfortunately, even as an adult, I was still human, not to mention pitifully vulnerable. So when Everly took another step toward me and looked me in the eyes and asked if I wanted to talk about it, I broke. Maybe because he seemed so genuine. He wasn't even being demanding like usual. Just acting like the Everly I'd first met, which was perhaps the most dangerous thing about it.
When I told him everything, he didn't have to say anything for me to know I was an idiot to think some impromptu romance with my neighbor was really going to work out.
There was no decision to try again with Everly, but there was a truce. He stayed over, took my supposed wind chime-to-be away from me, and just listened. He fed my fish for me when I got too worked up to do anything except go to bed early and cry. I was actually in my pajamas, with sleepy, mussed bedhead, supervising Gus's feeding when another unexpected knock came at my door two days later. Thinking it was Lilah, I studiously ignored it and tapped at the tank while the fish zipped around catching flakes of food.
There was another knock. Everly sighed and flipped down the tank lid.
"Are you going to answer that?" he asked.
He tutted and spun me around, giving me a push toward the door.
"Go on, don't be difficult," he said. "You answer the door and I'll start on breakfast."
Breakfast. He'd probably make something extravagant to impress me. I missed toast and frozen waffles.
Resignedly, I dragged myself to the door and opened it, squinting and shielding my eyes from the light of the hallway.
"Go away, Lilah."
"Randy," a familiar voice said, sending a burst of surprise and joy straight to my gut. Dave dropped his duffel on the floor and pulled me into my arms.
The world reeled. I drew back to do a double take, scouring his face for the brown eyes and wide mouth I was used to, and belatedly remembered to breathe. My trembling hand touched his face and I thought I was going to cry again like at the airport.
"It's been two days," I said, unable to think of anything else.
He smiled nervously and said, "Well, I needed a day to have a lie in and be miserable and realize I never should have left in the first place. Mum loaned me the money to come back and grovel."
"Oh," I said stupidly. Something unraveled inside me, light and relieved. Tingly, almost. I sagged forward against him and returned his unlikely grin, clutching his arms to keep him there as long as possible.
And then stupid Everly called out, "Randy?" from the kitchen, and Dave's smile fell.
"Is that who I think it is?" Dave asked.
"Depends on who you think it is," I said, weakly disengaging. I patted my hair down and fought back a disgraced flush.
"I think it's your arsehole ex," he said darkly. "Tell me I'm wrong."
I shut the door and stepped into the hall before Everly could show his ugly face and ruin things even more.
"You're not wrong, but it's not what you think." Assuming he thought it was a completely innocent visit that had nothing to do with absolute loneliness and desperation. I looked at Dave and tried to smile again, conveying my regret with the twitch in my lips and the lingering redness around my eyes. "Give me ten minutes and I'll have him gone. Don't go anywhere, okay?"
Dave crossed his arms and huffed. "Yeah, okay."
"Great," I said. After a moment's hesitation, I pushed up onto the balls of my feet and kissed him solidly on the mouth and then practically ran back inside with the plan to toss Everly down the fire escape.
"Everly," I hissed, shutting the door behind me and creeping into the kitchen. He'd gotten a skillet out and was breaking eggs into a bowl. I would have felt guilty if panic wasn't currently pushing me to get him out of my house as quickly as possible. "You have to leave."
"I assume it's Lilah, then," he said, seeming unperturbed, and began whisking the eggs with a fork. "I got the feeling she didn't like me much. Can't you ask her to come back later?"
Didn't like you with good reason, I thought. It was like an out-of-body experience, watching myself watch this man I no longer wanted stand in my kitchen while the man I did want stood outside my door. Why had I been desperate enough to let Everly in? I could have kicked myself, but I would have rather kicked Everly's ass out the window.
"Please do this for me just this once," I begged, swallowing down my pride and putting my hand on his arm.
Everly sighed like I was annoying him. "Let me finish this and tidy up a bit and then we'll see."
And this was the kind of thing that had always been wrong with him. It made my chest tighten, and I pursed my lips and took the fork and the bowl of drippy yellow eggs away from him.
"If you don't mind, I'm not hungry, and I'd really like to talk to Lilah alone right now."
Everly studied me for a moment, his discerning gaze sweeping back across my face for what seemed like forever until he finally seemed to find something that satisfied him.
He nodded, squeezed my wrist, and said, "I understand." And then, to my horror, he started walking to the front door.
I bolted after him.
"No! Not that way. Take the, um—can't you go out the fire escape? To avoid, you know, Lilah?"
"Absolutely not," he said loftily, rolling down his sleeves and checking his back pocket for his wallet. He reached for me, presumably to hug or kiss me goodbye, but I ducked away. He rolled his eyes and put his hand on the door knob. "All right, then, I'll just see you tomorrow."
"No, you won't." I slammed my hand on the door and glared at him, gritting my teeth. "Leave out the fire escape. You're pissing me off."
Snorting, he said, "We'll see," and pulled open the door despite my weight on it.
In a panic, I tried to squeeze past him, to put myself between Dave and Everly and explain before things devolved into fisticuffs. But when I got into the hallway, it was empty. Dave and his duffel were gone, and the only sounds were Everly's languorous footsteps as he walked away.
I knew Dave's mobile number was probably disconnected, but I called it twice anyway. It rang hollowly both times until it informed me that the number I had dialed had been disconnected. I sat with the phone between my knees, gnawing my lip, until I got so angry at myself and the situation that I called the first person I could think of to blame.
"This is your fault," I accused sullenly when Lilah answered the phone, throwing myself down on the couch with my heart climbing steadily up my throat. It was beating so hard that I thought I was going to pass out. I was just barely hanging on, convincing myself that this was fixable, or preferably not happening at all.
"What is?" she asked in a combination of confusion and amusement.
"Everything." I picked at a loose thread in the cushion, feeling intensely sorry for myself. "If you hadn't invited me to that party, I could have gone on thinking Dave was a serial killer until he moved, and then I wouldn't be sitting here with my heart broken because I'm an idiot."
"Oh honey," she said in a sympathetic rush. "I'm sorry. I knew I should have told you he was leaving."
"That's not it," I said, rolling onto my back to glare at the ceiling. The popcorn texture cast millions of tiny shadows that I desperately, angstily related to in my self-pity. "He came back, but I—" I paused, chewing my lip again. I couldn't tell her about Everly. "I, uh, had company, so he kind of bailed and now I can't find him."
Lilah fell uncharacteristically quiet for a moment before she said, "You couldn't have known he would come back, so even though I think that was super slutty of you, I can't blame you. Did you check Dylan's?"
I felt a stab of hope. I'd almost forgotten about Douchebag.
"No, I don't have his number. Do you think he'd go there?"
A snort. "Duh. They're like best friends." She rattled off the number while I frantically looked around for a pen and paper. She had to repeat it twice, but I got it written down.
"You're the best," I managed to tell her through the emotion in my voice.
"I know I am. And I'll be there in about ten minutes to pick you up."
My chest fluttered. "To take me to Dylan's to see Dave?"
"No, stupid. To take you to the police station to renew your restraining order, since I know you and I'd bet anything it was Everly you had over."
An embarrassed blush crept up the back of my neck. I didn't have any excuses for that.
I cleared my throat and said, "Yeah, I know, that was probably a bad decision. He just seemed so nice and genuine—"
"And then turned into a jerk as soon as he stopped getting what he wanted, right?" she interrupted me. "Yeah, I know how that goes. Hang up and call Dylan. I'll see you in ten."
It took five of those ten minutes for me to get up the nerve to call Dylan's phone, and when Dylan finally answered on the last possible ring and I introduced myself, he immediately passed it over to Dave.
"Hullo?" Dave said, sounding a bit confused. Dylan hadn't warned him who was on the line. But confused or not, the second his voice hit my ear, relief fell over me in a tidal wave and I couldn't stop smiling.
"It's me. Uh, Randy, I mean—no, don't hang up!" I pleaded when I heard the muffled sound of the phone being pulled away and cussed at. I held onto the happiness that he was just at Dylan's, not on another plane, and pushed onward. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry about earlier. If I'd known you were coming back, I never would have let him anywhere near me."
"Look," he said, too loudly and emphatically to be entirely sober. He must have been really upset to be tipsy already. "I don't blame you. I get it. I left and he's extremely good-looking and he fancies your pants off. Literally. It's okay, stuff happens."
"But it's not okay," I said, feeling worse by the second. I was afraid I was going to throw up. "I would rather have you. I always would've rather had you. It was so stupid to let Everly in but I swear nothing happened. We just talked."
"I'm sure," he drawled.
"Dammit, Dave," I snapped. "Can't you stop acting like you didn't come back from New Zealand for me and just shut up and realize that I'm apologizing and asking to see you?"
He didn't reply. If I hadn't been able to hear his soft breathing on the other end, I would have thought he hung up. Dylan was saying something incoherent but most likely douchebaggy in the background.
"Dave?" I asked.
"What?" he said shortly.
Cringing, I hugged myself and hoped for the best and said, "Can I see you?"
"I don't know. It took you two days to get a guy in your house. That's not exactly a good sign."
I was already near tears, bouncing back and forth between self-pity and the severe desire to see him again.
"Please," I begged.
"I'll think about it," he said and hung up.
When Lilah came over, she found me in a fetal position on the couch with the phone clasped against me. I was sure it looked very dramatic and pathetic, but she remained unimpressed. Taking me by both wrists, she dragged me off the couch and into my bedroom and ordered me to get dressed.
"Put on something a judge would like and tell me where you keep the copies of your old forms."
Dazedly, I pushed through my closet and picked out a sweater that was too hot for the current weather but looked good on me.
"What do you need copies for?" I asked.
"To give to the clerk," she said impatiently. "I Googled how to renew a restraining order before I came over here."
"I don't know," I said. I took off my pajama shirt, tossed it the corner, and slowly pulled the sweater on over my head. "Probably in the safety deposit box. Top drawer of the dresser."
"Great." She hesitated, watching me stumble as I tripped out of my pants, and heaved a soft sigh. "Randy, you know it's gonna be okay, right?"
Stilling, I stood with one leg in my dress pants and stared dully at the carpet.
"Not really," I said in a predictably anguished voice. "He doesn't want to see me."
"You don't think a restraining order against Everly will change his mind?"
My head whipped around, eyes wide as I gawked at her. That actually hadn't occurred to me yet.
"Lilah, you're a genius."
She just smirked, rooting around in my sock drawer. "I know, honey."
When she found the safety deposit box, she tsked at its unlocked state, shuffled past my birth certificate and my passport, and pulled out my current copy of DV-130, Restraining Order After Hearing. She folded it in half and creased it with her nail, looking smug.
"You ready?" she asked.
I looked down at my feet and decided I could forego the time it would take to find dress socks and just wear flip flops instead. Hell yes I was ready.
The visit to the police department was long and tedious. I had to fill out two forms, have an emotional chat with a judge, and make lots of copies of lots of paperwork. I tried to convince Lilah to stop by Dylan's on the way home, but she insisted that if he'd already been drinking then he was probably in bad shape.
She was right, but probably not for the reasons she thought she was.
I knew something was wrong the moment we cleared the concrete stairs and stepped into the lobby. Even from there, I could hear yelling and some serious scuffling a few floors above us. The front desk attendant looked scared and uncertain.
Lilah, somehow suddenly the practical one in the situation, whipped out her phone and said, "Don't worry. We'll go take a look and call the police if we have to."
When we got up to my floor, it was clear what had happened. Dave, my stupid wonderful Dave, had come back to talk to me and had somehow bumped into my stupid stalker. Everly was mostly bumping into Dave's face with his fist, but he dropped his hand and jumped away when I screamed. Dave stumbled and slid down to the floor, his nose bloody and obviously broken.
In my moment of rage, all I could think was that I was going to kill Everly if Dave's nose was misshapen after this, because it was my strong opinion that Dave had the cutest nose ever. I shoved Everly into the wall in a burst of adrenaline-spurred strength and then knelt next to Dave, one hand on his shoulder while the other tipped back his head. I'd only gotten a C in my high school First Aid class, but I vaguely recalled that being the protocol for a broken nose. Or maybe it was only for a bloody nose. Crap.
"Are you okay?" I asked, too panicked to be embarrassed that my voice was as high-pitched and frantic as a teenage girl's.
Dave gurgled incoherently in reply. He tried to wave me off, but his hands were slick with blood. It didn't inspire much confidence.
"We need to get him to the ER," Lilah said firmly. She glared at Everly where he was recovering from having the wind knocked out of him and held up one of the five copies I'd had to make at the police station. "You'd better not follow us, 'cause we have a temporary restraining order until the hearing. Look forward to getting served."
Damn. Lilah the Badass. I would have been more impressed if I hadn't been busy avoiding Dave's blood while I pulled him to his feet.
Everly looked betrayed, but I didn't have the time to feel sorry for him. Punching people in the face didn't exactly generate sympathy. Scowling at him, I looped Dave's arm around my neck and helped him hobble toward the elevator. When I looked back to gesture for Lilah, she had her cell out and was presumably phoning the police. Good girl.
Dave tried to refuse the hospital trip, but Lilah shut him up with the threat of septal hematoma, whatever that was, and he demurely obeyed after that. I pushed him into the backseat of Lilah's car and climbed in after him, so happy to see him that I hugged his arm and let him bleed on me. The whole drive, I babbled to him about how sorry I was, how Everly was such a dick, and did he hear Lilah threaten him with a restraining order? Because that was true, and I didn't want him to be angry anymore. I probably would have kept rambling if he hadn't nudged me with his elbow and looked as reassuring as was physically possible with a profusely bleeding and broken nose.
It was probably the bloody mess down the front of his shirt and all over my hands that got us into a room so fast. Fast for an emergency room visit, anyway. There was still close to an hour of sitting around and filling out paperwork before we were in our own private room and I could hold Dave's hand and look intensely worried some more.
When it came to it, the doctor explained some medical jargon that basically boiled down to watching for deformities and returning to the hospital if his nose started healing funny. There was the issue of payment, which Lilah, like a goddess of cash and random medical knowledge, took care of with a gold credit card. But as grateful as I was, I was still hanging onto Dave's arm—Dave, whom I'd thought gone permanently from my life and whom I wanted to talk to very much. Alone. I had to clear my throat three times just to get Lilah's attention again.
Lilah glanced between the two of us and smirked.
"I can take a hint," she said, backing out of the room with her purse and payment receipt. "I'll be in the cafeteria if you need me."
"Um," said Dave after she left, gingerly touching his nose just to have something to do with his hands. "I'm not sure what to say."
"You came back. You don't have to say anything," I said, sitting on his bed and smiling. Now that his face was clean and he'd been cleared of any likely physical deformities, I could see the rapidly spreading bruise on his face.
"I owe you an apology."
I blinked. "For what?"
"For not saying it back in the airport," he said, looking into my eyes. It was a kitschy romantic moment that I wouldn't have traded for anything else in life. My breath hitched.
"So?" I prompted.
"So, I love you, Randall Gallagher," he said shyly.
Butterflies. There was a technical name for them that I didn't know, but I had them. All in my stomach and throughout my chest, too many to count, every cliché romantic moment I'd ever seen in a movie bundled together. But it was my romantic moment, and it was with Dave, and I touched his bruised face and smiled like an idiot.
"I'm going to have to move again," I said, light and casual, like I wasn't thinking about something that was equal parts terrifying and exhilarating and obvious.
Dave sat up and frowned at me. "That's ridiculous. You can't keep rearranging your life for this guy. You should just stick it out and call the cops if he shows up."
I looked at him like the idiot he clearly was. How was he not getting the big picture here?
"Wouldn't it be easier if I just moved?" I asked.
"Easier like how? Like picking up your life and getting acquainted with a new city just because some arse won't leave you alone and follow a restraining order?"
"Technically, it was expired, so he wasn't breaking the law, but no. I meant more like moving to New Zealand." I felt breathless as soon as the words were out of my mouth. It was a crazy idea, absolutely certifiable, but I couldn't deny it was what I wanted. Almost immediately, Dave got a panicky look and I could tell he thought it was a bad idea, but I wasn't letting that stop me again. I leaned forward and hovered over his mouth, watching his eyes dilate and his lips part. I kissed him gently, my hand cupping his cheek, and decided not to give him a choice. "I'm applying for a work visa whether you like it or not. I always liked Lord of the Rings."
"That's an awful reason."
"It is, but my main reason is you." At his continued look of incredulity, I pushed on, "It's really for the best, isn't it? I run an Etsy shop, so I don't have to worry about finding a job. And I really would feel more comfortable living somewhere far, far away from Everly."
"We haven't even known each other a month," he said, although I could tell he was starting to think about it. "You're crazy."
"I know," I said breathlessly. "I know, it's absolutely insane. But those two days you were gone were the most miserable of my life and I feel like if I don't give it a proper shot with you then I'll regret it for the rest of my life."
Dave remained unconvinced. He looked pale and small in the hospital bed, his hulking shoulders still pressed against the thin white blanket the nurses had given him.
"I don't know," he said. "What about Lilah?"
Stubborn idiot of a man. I put my hands on either side of his face and forced him to look at me.
"She's a hopeless romantic, so I'm sure she'll understand. Just please, let me try it. Let me move there and we can date properly. And if it doesn't work, I can always come back. So what do you say?"
Nothing. For a long time, nothing. I fidgeted, waiting for him to speak, watching the thoughts pass behind his brown eyes.
"The application process takes forever," he finally said in a warning tone, but then he put his hand on the back of my neck, tugging me down so we could kiss, slow and sweet like our first. He pulled away grinning. It looked like I wasn't the only crazy one. "But on the bright side, my mum has a guest room."
I laughed and leaned into him, feeling more relaxed and happy than I had in a long time. There would be a lot to do and get used to, but we'd figure it out. And I definitely wasn't going to sleep in the guest room.
After one solid week of packing and mailing oversized boxes to his mom, we were on a plane. To New Zealand. To New Zealand.
I didn't think Dave understood the gravity of this situation, because the fifth time I turned to him in our crowded coach seats and told him we were on a plane to New Zealand, he just looked at me with exasperation and said, "I know, Randy. Trust me, I know."
But he didn't know. He couldn't have. Unless the mixture of excitement and nerves that had me both shaking and smiling was what he'd felt on the plane ride back to the States to see me. Which was possible, I supposed, but this was way bigger, because I was going to meet his mother.
"Did you tell her about me?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, not even needing to clarify who I was talking about. His ears were turning red.
I didn't need to be a gossip hound to know he was hiding something.
"And?" I pressed.
He hunched toward the window, tugging the shade aimlessly up and down. It sent stripes of light over his face that made his eyes look brighter than usual.
"And," he said grudgingly, "that's why she loaned me the money to come back."
"Your mother is my new favorite person in the world," I told him.
"Yeah." He flipped up the arm rest between us so he could hook his arm around me and squeeze. "Mumsie is pretty ace for an old lady. I hope you don't mind living with her for a bit."
I snorted and said, "And I hope you don't mind that I plan on convincing you to move out as soon as possible."
"After you get your visa, maybe," he said and chastely kissed the top of my hair. "I'm not giving up free room and board until I know you're sticking around."
We'd decided that I would have an extended visit as a regular tourist and if things looked like they were working out then I'd apply for the real deal. But that heavy, swelling feeling I got beneath my breastbone whenever Dave looked at me told me that we'd be moving out of his mom's house real soon.
"I think I'll stick around," I said, lightly, as though I wasn't really sure. He laughed and bumped my shoulder, like he knew I was kidding, and we both settled down to watch the in-flight movie.
When we got off the plane, he asked me to hand him his "sunnies" from our carry-on and tugged me along by the hand to baggage claim. Luckily, it was blissfully similar to every American airport I had ever been in, and I was thinking I could get used to the foreign slang and unfamiliar dialects as long as there were still constants in my life. Like Dave, for one, but also slowly turning baggage carousels that never spat out your luggage until you'd gone to find an attendant.
The butterflies from the hospital were back full force as we trudged outside to wait for the cab to Dave's mom's house. Dave had his sunglasses on, shielding his brown eyes, his hair crazy and unkempt from the long plane ride. He actually looked remarkably similar to the first time I'd noticed him, standing behind me on that busy sidewalk as I waited for that flashing red hand to change to a walk sign.
But now when I looked at him I didn't see a serial killer—I saw someone I strongly suspected was actually the love of my life. And it didn't matter if we had to live with Mumsie, or if I had to wait months and months to get a visa to live with him. Because with the New Zealand sun in his hair and a tired grin on his face, the way Dave looked at me, I knew he felt the same.